Issues such as obesity or chronic pain would no longer be considered grounds in themselves for DSP eligibility. Rather, they would be considered based on how they affect a person’s capacity to function and work.
And there would be new guidelines on mental health, the fastest-growing category of new DSP recipients. People who suffer from episodic mental health conditions would now be treated with a focus on rehabilitation.
“The new (tables) will make sure that people applying for the Disability Support Pension will be assessed on what they can do and not what they can’t do,” Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday.
“I want to see people who have some capacity to work doing so.
“I believe we can do better than a lifetime spent on income support, for Australians who have some capacity to work.
“Of course the Disability Support Pension is, and will remain, an essential part of our social safety net for those who are unable to work.”
The new rules would take effect from January 1 next year and apply only to new applicants.
There are currently 815,000 DSP recipients, up by almost 100,000 from just two years ago, but the changes proposed by the government’s expert advisory committee — and expected to be adopted — are set to make a profound difference to the future take-up rate of the welfare payment.
A Centrelink review of the new tables found 38 per cent of the successful DSP applicants in the first half of this year would be found ineligible under the new tables.
Both Coalition and Labor governments have worked for years, with little effect, to control the ever-increasing numbers of DSP recipients by pushing the idea that those with the capacity to work should do so.
The DSP has long been a welfare dead-end for recipients, with very few moving off the payment, except on to the age pension.
In 2006, the Howard government changed the rules to stop people receiving the DSP if they could work 15 hours a week or more, down from the previous 30-hour test.
The 2009 budget saw the Gillard government put DSP decisions in the hands of more senior assessors. Since the change, introduced in July last year, successful claims fell from 63.3 per cent to 58.8 per cent.
The 2011 budget offered DSP recipients aged 35 and under a carrot, allowing them to work up to 30 hours a week without losing the part-pension. Previously, any more than 15 hours work a week was enough to suspend the payment. And, from September this year, applicants (other than those with a severe disability or illness) must show they have tried to get work or training before they can be eligible for the DSP.
The profile of a typical DSP recipient is changing from those with musculoskeletal conditions (currently 33 per cent of the total) to those with mental illnesses.
In 2001, less than 23 per cent of disability support pensioners had a psychological or psychiatric condition; now it is 29 per cent and growing.
Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said the time was ripe for a change in the assessment procedures.
“They were last addressed in the early 90s and since that time much of the thinking on disability has changed from a medical to a social model, looking at how a person’s disability influences their capacity to function in life,” he said. “So I’m supportive of the government’s clear intention to ensure that as many people with disabilities as possible are out there in the community, working and paying taxes rather than receiving benefits.”